Copepod parasite sticking out of gill covers

Sea life: Shysharks

We have an astonishing array of shark species in the Cape oceans, offering wonderful opportunities to divers. At one end of the spectrum is shark cage diving at Seal Island or in Gansbaai, and at the other, I think, is the humble shyshark.

Shysharks are small, ranging from 15 centimetre juveniles up to about 75 centimetres when fully grown. They look like small sharks – they ARE small sharks – and come in a range of hues.

Tony and a puffadder shyshark at Long Beach
Tony and a puffadder shyshark at Long Beach

Puffadder shysharks are the most common, with brown and yellow mottled markings, saddles across its body, and white spots. My favourite, however, are the dark shysharks – sometimes they look like black velvet with glowing white spots on their backs.

Dark shyshark at Long Beach
Dark shyshark at Long Beach

Shysharks are not really shy – in fact we often encounter really docile (sleepy?) ones that let us give them a tickle or get really close for a photo. The smaller ones are generally more jumpy, but when they feel threatened they curl up in a little bagel-shaped ring with its tail covering its eyes. This is possibly to make them more difficult for a  predator to swallow. They are preyed upon by larger shark species such as sevengill cowsharks, as well as (occasionally) seals.

Dark shyshark at Long Beach
Dark shyshark at Long Beach

Their skin is rough, like all sharks’, and has a tendency to stick to neoprene if you get too close. So be warned! They eat worms, crustaceans, and smaller fish. They are oviparous, the females producing egg capsules that we called “mermaids’ purses” when we found them on the beach as children. Breeding takes place all year round.

Puffadder shyshark at Long Beach
Puffadder shyshark at Long Beach

These little sharks are completely harmless to humans, and their gentle and docile nature means that great pleasure can be derived from watching them up close. Their eyes are very beautiful, and coming across one resting on the sand will give you a good opportunity to study their intricate markings.

Puffadder shyshark with copepod parasite
Puffadder shyshark with copepod parasite

A couple of weeks ago we found a shyshark at Long Beach with a copepod parasite sticking out of one of its gill covers. According to Guido at SURG, sightings like this are relatively uncommon.

Copepod parasite sticking out of gill covers
Copepod parasite sticking out of gill covers

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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